March 12, 2007

Inside-Out Natural History

Posted by: Tim Stetter

My name is Tim, and I’m the environmental educator here at the Burke Museum. Here is a question: How can we introduce kids to the wonders of the outdoors while inside a natural history museum? In other words, does appreciation for a stuffed bird or pressed leaf translate into appreciation for the outdoors?

I’d like to share one episode from the museum, and I’d like to hear your responses to it. During one of our public programs, I witnessed an 11- or 12-year old boy discover the pull-out drawers in our biodiversity gallery. These drawers include two species of woodpecker, aquatic mammals like beaver and water-shrew, and several pressed plants, and show adaptations through time. The boy was ecstatic, and raced from one drawer to the next, pulling them open and gazing inside. Then he called out to his father: “Dad! Get over here! They have dead stuff! Cool!”

What do you think happened here? Did the boy gain an appreciation of nature? Or was this just another instance of boys’ fascination with dead things? Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll chime in, too.